Putting Children First helps mothers and fathers unlock and resolve the conflict around contact with children that can arise during and after separation. Using strategies such as parenting plans, scripted phone calls and parenting meetings, the book will enable parents to communicate effectively on all the most important things in their children’s lives – and make relaxed arrangements for the continued involvement by both parents with their children.

Chapter 1: All about you

‘The world has shattered into a thousand pieces and everything that I trusted about life has fallen apart. Not only that, but the person who is making life this bad is the person who always made my life better. I don’t know which way to turn.’ [Jill – mother to three boys, two weeks after her husband left home.]

It is important to get clear in your mind that the ending of a relationship takes up a lot of emotional energy, regardless of whether you are the leaver or the left.

Endings take time and if you are to avoid creating a situation where your children fear that your relationship with them is ending too, you must give yourself enough time to deal with the change step by step. In this way, you will offer your children the security that they need.

Chapter 2: Your relationship with your ex-partner

It is unlikely that you will find it easy to disentangle yourself from the ties that have bound you to your former partner and your former life. Even where there is a sense of relief that a relationship has come to an end, many parents struggle with the process of psychological separation. There may well be other ties to consider, too; relationships with in-laws and extended families and also relationships with friends that you had in common. These things take time to work through and it can feel like a painful process but, the more you are able to separate, the better position you will be in to give your children what they need to adjust to the new situation.

Conflict, or the absence of it, is probably the single most important factor in how well children adjust to life after family separation. As parents, you both have a responsibility to avoid it wherever possible. By thinking about the things that are likely to lead to arguments, before they arise, it is possible to develop strategies that mean that points of dispute or disagreement won’t end in fights or longer-term, entrenched conflict.

By thinking about and learning new ways of communication, you will be able to develop skills and strategies that make conflict less likely. These will allow you to express your point of view more clearly and will mean that the chances of your children being caught-up in a war between their parents are significantly reduced.

Chapter 3: Your children

The key to helping children cope with divorce and separation are held by parents and those other important adults in children’s lives such as grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends of the family. All of these people have the power to positively or negatively influence the ways in which children are affected by divorce and separation.

Children can and do thrive in separated families and can easily adapt to living for some of the week in one home and the rest in another. Ensuring their warmth and safety in both homes is imperative, as is establishing continuity and consistency in your arrangements. Keep in mind that your children have the right to a relationship with all of the significant people in their lives after family separation and that it is your responsibility as parents to help them achieve this. Value and respect all of the people in your children’s families of origin and you will help them to build self respect and self worth that will last them for the rest of their lives.

Chapter 4: You and your children

Whatever the circumstances that lay behind your family separation, regardless of whether you feel as though you were wronged, irrespective of whether you and the other parent agreed that there should be a separation or not, your relationship with your child or children will change and will change for ever.

This may feel terrifying but the change need not be for the worse. It is possible to have an even stronger and more fulfilling parenting relationship with your children. But, in order to achieve this, you need to be able and willing to put the work in. You will need to understand what is happening to you and to your relationship with the other parent and what your children will be experiencing in order to make the changes successfully.

Whilst your new parenting role may be different to how it used to be, it doesn’t automatically follow that it will be worse. Family separation can allow you to break old ways of being and think, again, about what you can give to your children to allow them to grow into emotionally secure and confident adults. Get some new routines in place as soon as you can and think about the ways that you are going to give your children the best that you can and how you are going to create a new, positive and fulfilling parent/child relationship.

Chapter 5: Your children and their other parent

Whatever the circumstances of your separation, regardless of how you see your life in the future, your children have the right to a relationship with their other parent.

The nature of that relationship may vary according to circumstances but, unless there are concerns about safety (in which case it is vital that you seek help from the appropriate bodies), that relationship should be centered around the needs of your child not on yours or the other parents.

It may seem unnecessary for us to say it, but we will anyway! Children are not possessions to be fought over and divided up. They are precious, growing, sensitive young people who require you both to put their needs before your own. Unless there are genuine concerns about a child’s wellbeing or safety, it is not acceptable for you to prevent your child from seeing their other parent. Neither is it acceptable to for you to make it impossible for your children to continue to have a relationship with you by walking away from their lives.

Chapter 6: Your new separated family

The most important reason for building a co-operative relationship is so that your children can continue to be close to both of you, those people who are most important to them in the whole world. Valuing your children means that you want the very best for them, what parent doesn’t want that? Respecting your children means valuing all that they are, that which they have inherited from each of you. Wanting to continue sharing your responsibility to care and provide for your children is key to building co-operation, having the willpower and commitment to keep going even when it is tough means that you will succeed.

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